6 Things I Learned about Nutrition when I Met Ben Greenfield for Dinner

Sometimes a person is prepared to miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity just because they come up with an excuse to avoid going out of their comfort zone. Something quite exciting happened to me yesterday – something I had never even thought possible. Actually, I had an inkling about it the day before yesterday when a follower of mine from the US tagged me under a post by Ben Greenfield. If you don’t know who Ben Greenfield is, you can watch the podcast I did with him two years ago.

He is one of the people whose work I have been following for years. I have his book – now autographed, I have read most of his blog posts and have listened to a lot of his podcasts. Ben had posted that he was in Bulgaria and wanted to go on a hike in Vitosha Mountain and he was looking for someone to help him with itineraries. A friend had recommended me and I started exchanging messages with Ben for some possible routes for his three hour hike.

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On the next day Alex called me. Alex is engaged in conditioning workouts too and we had met once – we went for a long walk and exchanged a lot of information about circadian rhythm, light, nutrition and workouts. Alex said to me: “How about a supper with Ben Greenfield, tonight?”I got excited, but Tuesday is one of my busiest days and I have workouts scheduled till 9 pm. I wanted to see Ben, but it would take me out of my comfort zone, so at first I said no.  I hung up and thought: “Ines, you are looking for excuses now.You have a whole team of awesome coaches who can step in for you. Ben Greenfield is in Bulgaria and you are going to miss the chance to meet him and talk to him.” I decided to go out of my comfort zone and went to the supper. It was very different and interesting, because there were a few more people from the fitness circles whom I knew. They are all very interesting persons and we had enough to talk about for the whole evening.

Ben Greenfield turned out to be extremely down-to-earth and friendly. He never stopped sharing – interesting stuff all the time, and although we all bombarded him with questions on all sorts of topics, he answered in a lot of detail. He also told us about the new things he was testing that he had not discussed with any of his followers yet. In this blog post I am going to share some of the things Ben told us and some of my impressions of him.

1. ŌURA ring – body temperature, sleep and heart rate variability

Ben is one of those people who are always experimenting with something. If you follow his blog or have read his book, you know he has an abundance of “bio hacks” and all kinds of gadgets that measure different health indicators. Ben is one of the people who piqued my interest in Heart Rate Variability (HRV) which is basically an indicator of the way the heart rate varies. This is a measure that is used to determine what condition the body is in – if it is rested or overtrained – and based on the results, adjustments to the training plan can be made. I have checked out various devices and applications that measure HRV, but most I have seen are quite imprecise.

Ben showed us his  ŌURA ring which basically tracks HRV, steps, sleep, body temperature and other indicators. These are very interesting data, because they say a lot about the body’s condition. For example, body temperature can indicate the condition of the metabolism, and if it falls outside the recommended range, it can be a sign that something in the training, nutrition or rest routine is not well structured. Body temperature can also be a good way to track the menstrual cycle in women and find out which hormone is dominant at the moment. For example, increased temperature is associated with increased progesterone levels.

Also, unlike most similar watches, the ŌURA ring is constantly in airplane mode and does not emit bluetooth signal which is generally harmful to cells. If you have been following my posts, you probably know about the harmful effects of electromagnetic fields. So this is a big advantage.

2.The benefit of consuming carbohydrates in the evening

There are more and more people in the fitness circles who consume their carbohydrates mainly in the evening. I have been doing it for almost 3 years and I think this is a very good choice. Ben told us more about his current diet. When he was competing more often in Ironman and other triathlons, Ben followed a predominantly high-fat diet. Currently he emphasizes foods with a higher fat and protein content during the day and includes carbohydrates in the evening, and as he added: “I also have some dark chocolate with a glass of wine.”The benefits of having carbohydrates at supper are numerous, but one of them is that they help you sleep. Especially if you are trying to stick to a calorie-restricted diet, eating your carbohydrates in the evening will help you fall asleep faster. The reason is this: Serotonin is known as a happiness neurotransmitter which also calms us down. When our serotonin levels go up in the evening, we sleep better. It is important to remember that carbohydrates are required for serotonin synthesis. The process goes like this: the amino acid tryptophan is the building block of serotonin and it can’t be transformed, when there are other amino acids around as a result of overconsumption of protein. But when insulin levels increase (in the presence of carbohydrates), they reduce the levels of the other amino acids in the blood, so tryptophan can easily be transported across the brain barrier and be converted into serotonin.

Likewise, carbohydrates consumed in the evening help lower cortisol which antagonizes insulin. This is also one of the reasons a person craves carbohydrates when under stress. The body instinctively seeks the food that will increase the insulin levels and lower the cortisol levels.

3.Ironman and diet during a race

I have always liked Ben’s view on diet. Yesterday he told us what fuel he takes with him on long events. What he does is that he relies on more fat and very little carbohydrates at the beginning of the event and almost to the end of it. The reason is that the body burns more fat at the beginning of the race because of the lower intensity of the activity and the longer duration. So a higher-fat fuel leads to better results. At the end of the race, when you have to do your utmost, Ben relies on carbohydrates – Coca Cola, to be more precise.  During a race he consumes mostly liquid food and has a small bar once an hour. He said that was approximately 250 calories an hour. What he drinks is water with MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) oil, approximately 20 grams of BCAA, electrolytes and some carbohydrates.

Those of you who engage in sports like this are probably familiar with IV. This is basically intravenous rehydration during which electrolyte-containing fluids are injected into the body. During long races the body loses a lot of electrolytes and becomes dehydrated. Intravenous rehydration is a procedure done at hospitals. Ben told us that currently there are methods in the US of doing it on your own, but on a lower scale. You can basically inject yourself with a low dose of the electrolytes together with vitamin C and other micronutrients. Of course, this is something practiced by people who know how to do it and is intended for professional athletes rather than amateurs. Many athletes do it, because you feel fresher and more energetic at once.

4.Ben’s recommendations for a better sleep

Naturally we discussed sleep as well. As I mentioned, Ben uses various bio hacks to optimize his nutrition, workouts and rest. When we asked him what his top recommendation for a good sleep is, he said he would divide them into categories. In terms of supplements, he said the best one was CBN,

In terms of equipment, Ben recommends blue light blocking glasses that he had taken with him and put on at the end of the evening. The purpose of these glasses is that they block blue light which is normally not typical for late night hours. That is, artificial light often has a frequency that fools the body into believing it is daytime and this interferes with the release of melatonin (the hormone that makes us sleep). These glasses stop this light and allow for the release of melatonin.

Also, Ben recommended an application – Sleepstream which basically has a soundtrack that resembles sounds from nature, such as rain, waves, wind, that have a calming effect on the mind and body.

5.Flying, switching time zones and Ben’s tricks

I asked him if there are any special things he does to set his biological clock, when he travels across time zones. He said he always fasts when he flies, because he obviously does not prepare any food and the one on the plane is always quite distasteful to him. When he lands, he tries spending some time in daylight (if he lands in the evening, he does this on the next day). He also tries to get some physical activity at noon, after landing, and have food that is high in protein and fat. Both things help set the biological clock.

6.Be yourself

What I liked most of all was that Ben was being himself all the time. He took out a small bag of pink Himalayan salt that he sprinkled on his food. In the meantime he inquired what salt restaurants in Bulgaria use. While eating cheese, he asked if cows in Bulgaria are more of the A1 or the A2 type. For those of you who don’t know this – there are two breeds. A1 is a genetic mutation in which casein (the protein in milk) changes and provokes inflammation in the body. He produced a little bottle of stevia and offered it to all of us, of course. His favorite thing is to order carbonated water and put some stevia in it. He thinks it tastes like soda. Besides, we were at a Bulgarian restaurant which was offered a drum show, Bulgarian folk music and circle dancing. Naturally, Ben didn’t miss the opportunity to join the dance and he was very excited by the folk music and dancing and asked us if we learned those at school. He told us that when he travels, he always tries local dishes and does not track his macronutrients strictly. Rather than that, there are some foods he avoids. He told us that he avoids gluten in the US, but has noticed that grains in Europe don’t affect him negatively and he didn’t miss the chance to have some delicious bread. And I really enjoyed how he said that he doesn’t do things to feel comfortable and that people need to get used  to be out of their comfort zone if they want to really experience life and have the results they want.

I am happy I went out of my comfort zone and went to that supper. :))